First Pitch: Why I Loved Joker So Much

I’m taking a break from writing about the Pirates this weekend, at least in terms of what is happening with the front office. I’m also gearing up for what should be a very interesting Monday, when the Pirates announce their new president and hopefully shed some light on what the hell is going on right now.

I will be writing about the Pirates behind the scenes while working on the Baseball America top 30, which I’m pretty excited to be doing this year. I’ve got the top ten prospects due a week from Monday, and the rest due a month from now. I don’t know when the articles will eventually go up, but I’ll keep you posted on that, and on when I’ll be doing the live chat at BA for the article.

I saw Joker this past week and loved it. Since a lot of you had mentioned it to me before I saw it, I wanted to write something about it.

I’m going to talk about the feel of the movie and the character below, so avoid this completely if you don’t want to hear anything about the movie. I’ll try to avoid spoilers below for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but the sort of non-spoiler review is that this movie had a feel similar to some of my favorite Joker comics. It’s dark and twisted, but to the point where it really dives inside the mind of the Joker and you see that he’s just a normal guy who is just crazy and needs help.

Joker has never really had an origin story, and people have only been trying to tackle that recently. Part of what makes him such a great character is that mystery. It’s Heath Ledger’s “do you wanna know how I got these scars” speech. He tells a different story to different people, diving into his past in a way that makes you think it’s real and this is a guy who has been driven mad by this crazy event.

But when you hear a different version of this speech later, you start to think this guy isn’t just some guy driven mad by a family member. You see him as a guy who has no respect for anyone else* and who will toy with other people because he sees them as beneath him. But you know he’s smart, probably a genius. And there’s nothing crazy about his actions. They’re perfectly planned with contingencies at every turn, showing that he probably is smarter than everybody else.

The scary part is when you realize that he thinks he is right. He has a view of how the world works and he truly believes he knows how to fix it. And you can tell that he’s definitely seen a side of the world that you’ll never see, which kind of makes you question: “Could he be right?”

It doesn’t matter if he’s right, though, even if he’s usually attacking things that you could objectively argue need correction. It’s his methods. He will cause chaos, kill people, and show no regard for the law or societal norms. He knows he’s above all of them, and he also lives in a different reality where he believes that they’re all doing it wrong and he’s the only one who knows how to do it right, and you know he will do anything to fix their broken system.

That’s what is scary. It’s not some bumbling mob boss who is a one-dimensional character. It’s the person who is a dangerously indistinguishable mix of genius and crazy, who wants to shape the world into his own view, who doesn’t care if you disagree, and who will do anything and kill anyone to make it happen. And he’s doing all of this for you, to show you a better way, even though it’s clear to any sane person that his way is not better.

*But there is one person that Joker respects: Batman (we’re getting strictly into comic book territory now, since this movie didn’t have Batman). He doesn’t look down on Batman, but works to gain his respect because there is something driving him to seek Batman’s approval. It’s because Joker sees Batman as the only person on his level, and the only person who provides him a real challenge. He sees Batman as a guy who is exactly like himself.

And he’s right. You could argue whether Batman is crazy for being a superhero as a normal guy, but I just think he’s narcissistic and has the resources to make it happen. You also know that Batman has seen a different side of the world than you will ever see, except this part of the world runs exactly like your part of the world, just with more idea and control over what is going on.

Batman sees a problem that he thinks only he can fix, bypassing all of our institutions in the process, just like the Joker. He shows no regard for the law, because he believes he’s right, and this is the only way that things can be better. He doesn’t think about the consequences of going outside the system, and how that might spark others to do the same and shape the world into a different type of chaos than he’s trying to prevent.

But you give Batman a pass, because he’s fighting for your side. He’s fighting to preserve the reality that you know, and the norms and laws that you have accepted. So you overlook that he takes extreme methods because in the end, he’s doing what’s right, even if you might also be overlooking the long-term damage from a shift in the way people handle problems in the future.

The crazy thing about Batman and Joker is that they’re almost identical people on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the only difference between them is that Joker just needs mental help. Perhaps Batman does as well — Joker definitely thinks he does — but you wonder what amount of good Joker could do if he got on medication and realized that his view of the world was impacted by a chemical imbalance and a reaction to a traumatic event or a traumatic upbringing or both. And you wonder how the world could change if Joker and Batman both put their minds and resources together and worked to fix problems from within the system.

That’s my favorite type of hero/villain dynamic because it’s all of us in every situation. We’re all born good, but life shapes people along the way. Two people could have a similar tragic childhood and one would go down a path aimed at helping to fix a problem in the world, while the other might go down a darker path aimed at fixing the same problem, just in an unacceptable way, and with no real regard for the people he’s claiming to help. You don’t even need the tragedy. Two people could avoid tragedy and still end up down the different paths.

It’s not a choice. It’s a person’s surroundings that dictate all of this. You make choices within your surroundings that can impact your future path, but in the end you don’t get to choose the playing field. Batman was born a billionaire and Joker definitely wasn’t. So when tragedy hit both, their surroundings helped to shape the person they would become, and Joker didn’t benefit from the vast resources or the mental help that Batman had.

So you end up feeling sorry for the Joker by the end of the story. You definitely don’t condone his actions, and you want Batman or someone to stop him, because he’s going to cause chaos and destroy the world you know. But you know that he might not be a bad guy, and could actually help if he got on some medicine.

And you know that Batman’s actions can’t truly be condoned, and that he’s got his own ways of being corrupt. But you overlook that because he’s fighting for your version of the world, and trying to make it better in a way you want it to improve. What you don’t see is that his methods just lead to others working outside the system on either side, which breaks down society in a different way.

So you watch as Batman and Joker endlessly battle back and forth in a tug-of-war between the extremes of good and bad. One needs mental help, and wants to turn the world into a dark place that he thinks is better. The other wants to preserve this world, but does it in a way that further breaks down the world in a different way. And all of Gotham City is held hostage to this never-ending battle, because Batman will always be Batman if there’s a Joker, and Joker will always be Joker if there’s Batman and Batman’s approval to win.

Also Jared Leto’s Joker sucked, and I’d rate Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker right up there with Heath Ledger. But I’d love to see a story path that leads to Phoenix Joker seemingly killing Jason Todd, only for Todd to return as the Leto Joker. I’m fine with Leto’s version as long as we establish that he’s not the real Joker. Or we could just forget about him, which it seems like they’re doing.




By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one current player celebrating a birthday.

Francisco Liriano turns 36 years old today. He pitched for the 2019 Pirates, rejoining them after playing for the team during the 2013-16 seasons. In five seasons, four as a starter, he has a 46-39, 3.65 record in 693.2 innings. Liriano has pitched a total of 14 seasons in the majors, winning 112 games.

Wilfredo Boscan, pitcher for the 2016 Pirates. He was called up to the majors three times without appearing in a game, before finally making his big league debut. In five relief appearances and one start, he had a 6.46 ERA in 15.1 innings. He is still currently active, pitching this last season in Mexico.

Marty McLeary, pitcher for the 2006-07 Pirates. He debuted briefly with the 2004 San Diego Padres at 29 years old, then finished off his big league time with two stints for the Pirates. He had a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings in 2006, then an 8.22 ERA in four relief outings the following year. McLeary had a 14-year career in pro ball.

Jack Cassini, pinch-runner for the 1949 Pirates. The only big league experience for Cassini was eight early season pinch-running appearances at 29 years old. He scored three runs. He wasn’t a bad hitter, batting .304 over 1,517 minor league games.

Harry Camnitz, pitcher for the 1909 Pirates. He made his big league debut on September 29, 1909, pitching four innings in relief. He was the younger brother of Howie Camnitz, who won 25 games for the Pirates during their first World Series winning season in 1909. Harry’s only other big league time was two late season relief appearances for the 1911 St Louis Cardinals.

Bill Garfield, pitcher for the 1889 Alleghenys. He made two starts and two relief appearances as a rookie for the Alleghenys, going 0-2, 7.76 in 29 innings. His only other big league time was in 1890 with Cleveland, where he went 1-7, picking up his only career win against 300-game winner/Hall of Famer Mickey Welch.